David Bowie Ed Kelleher - Essay

Ed Kelleher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bowie is mad alright. He wears his brain right out on his lapel like a dazzling boutonniere. It flashes and beckons you to come right along on a brilliantly entertaining and self-serving expedition….

Once David was content with being a likeable schizophrenic with a lot of promise. Recently, though, he has smashed his personality and scattered it in so many directions you need a magnet to gather them back again. Fortunately, he provides that magnet, which is his musical genius and authority. If now he is "the twisted name on Garbo's eyes" and in ten seconds "living proof of Churchill's lies," those conditions obtain because Bowie has brought them around through his songs….

No one can accuse David of holding back. More than half of side two [of Hunky Dory] is taken up with admonitions, scoldings and bits of advice directed at Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan. Andy seems to irk Bowie in some vague unfathomable way but he also fascinates him. In a song called "Andy Warhol," that artist is depicted as nothing less than a tousle-haired boring child, but on another track, "Fill Your Heart-Andy Warhol," Bowie simply urges him to forget his mind and become a lover. "Song For Bob Dylan" has been dated a bit by the release of "George Jackson" but the sincerity of Bowie's request that Dylan "gaze a while down the old street" is undiminished.

At least three more cuts are deserving of the appellation masterpiece. They are "Changes," "Life On Mars" and "Queen Bitch." Each is a perfect matchup of melody to the terrifyingly lovely lyrics which are Bowie's specialty. "Time may change me, but I can't trace time" is the thought of "Changes."… "Life On Mars" is a whirligig in the horror circus of society circa 1972 or whatever year you happen to be in. "Queen Bitch" is a lament for opportunities lost, told from the vantage point on an eleventh floor hotel room while hustlers shuffle for trade on the windy streets below.

By letting the string out of his mind, David Bowie has created an important, striking and lasting work of art. Hunky Dory is as beautiful as a scar and a hundred times more deep.

Ed Kelleher, "Records: 'Hunky Dory'," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1972 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), February 20, 1972, p. 15.